Article 1. Project-Based Learning Research Review: Best Practices Across Disciplines

Educators often want to know how they can use PBL in their individual classroom. Project-based learning can be applied in any content area or any grade, but it may look very different across subjects. In the series of examples below, you will find descriptions of actual projects and exercises teachers have implemented in schools around the country, as well as links to the research reports on their outcomes. It should be noted that there are also many wonderful examples of cross-curricular projects, where teachers from two or more core subjects work together on a project. For an example, check out our Schools That Work package on an interdisciplinary project at Manor High School in Texas.


Urban students in grades 3-5 received inquiry-science instruction. Matched pre- and post-tests found substantial learning gains and a cumulative effect that lasted over several years (Lee, Buxton, Lewis, & LeRoy, 2006).

Fourth graders learned science through PBL or through traditional methods with the same teacher. The PBL curriculum involved figuring out a way to create electricity during a blackout, as blackouts had commonly affected the school’s region. PBL students had fewer stereotypical images of scientists on a “draw-a-scientist” test and were able to generate more problem-solving strategies than students in the traditional group. Content knowledge learned was equivalent in both groups (Drake & Long, 2009).

Urban middle school students engaged in a standards-based, inquiry-based science curriculum in ten middle schools showed higher levels of achievement on a curriculum-aligned test than students who received traditional instruction in a district-comparison group (Lynch, Kuipers, Pyke, & Szesze, 2005).

Urban middle school students engaged in PBL showed increased academic performance in science and improved behavior ratings over a two-year period (Gordon, Rogers, Comfort, Gavula, & McGee, 2001).

Urban students in grades seven and eight who were engaged in the LeTUS inquiry-based science curriculum demonstrated higher standardized test scores than students engaged in traditional instruction in a sample of 5,000 students. The LeTUs inquiry-science curriculum involves eight- to ten-week units addressing questions such as What Is the Quality of Air in My Community? or What Is the Water Like in My River? and is aligned with professional development, learning technology, and administrative support (Geier, Blumenfeld, Marx, Krajcik, Fishman, Soloway, & Clay-Chambers, 2008).

Middle school students engaged in Learning by Design (LBD) consistently outperformed students engaged in traditional instruction on tests of collaboration and metacognitive skills, such as checking work, designing fair tests, and explaining evidence. LBD students also learned science content as well as or better than students engaged in traditional learning methods, with the largest gains among economically disadvantaged students (Kolodner, Camp, Crismond, Fasse, Gray, Holbrook, Puntambekar, & Ryan, 2003).

Middle school students who received a computer-enhanced PBL unit had a better understanding of science concepts and felt more confident about being successful learners (Liu, Hsieh, Cho, & Schallert, 2006).

Tenth-grade earth science students who engaged in PBL earned higher scores on an achievement test as compared to students who received traditional instruction (Chang, 2001).

High school students engaged in PBL in biology, chemistry, and earth science classes outscored their peers on 44 percent of the items on the National Assessment of Educational Progress science test during their twelfth-grade year (Schneider, Krajcik, Marx, & Soloway, 2002).


Students in grades five and up in 11 school districts learned math problems through videotaped problems over a three-week period (The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury series). The PBL students showed improved competence in solving basic math word problems and planning skills and more positive attitudes toward math (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992).


PBL increased learning of macroeconomics at the high school level, as compared with traditional classes, in a sample of 252 students at 11 high schools (Maxwell, Mergendoller & Bellisimo, 2005).

A randomized, controlled trial in Arizona and California in 2007-08 examined the effects of a project-based economics curriculum developed by the Buck Institute for Education on student learning and problem-solving skills in a sample of 7,000 twelfth graders in 66 high schools. Seventy-six teachers received 40 hours of professional development in teaching economics with PBL instead of their normal professional development activities. Students who received PBL scored significantly higher on problem-solving skills and in their ability to apply knowledge to real-world economic challenges than students taught economics using traditional methods. Economics teachers who used the PBL approach reported greater satisfaction with the materials and methods, and no significant differences were detected between intervention and control-group teachers (Finkelstein, Hanson, Huang, Hirschman, & Huang, 2010).

Four veteran teachers taught macroeconomics using PBL in one or two courses and traditional instruction in another course. 246 twelfth-grade students in 11 classes completed pre- and post-tests in macroeconomics. Results showed that PBL was more effective than traditional instruction for teaching macroeconomics concepts (Mergendoller, Maxwell & Bellisimo, 2006).

History and U.S. Government

Second graders from low-income backgrounds participated in two project-based units which integrated literacy and social studies. The outcomes on standards-based social studies and content literacy assessments indicated that the project-based learning curriculum virtually erased the achievement gap between second graders of high and low-socioeconomic backgrounds (Halvorsen, Duke, Burgar, Block, Strachan, Berka, & Brown, 2012).

Students in grades four and five collaboratively researched primary and secondary sources to discover themes and reasons for human migration in the local region. PBL students showed improved reasoning and collaboration skills and increased knowledge of local history and communities (Wieseman & Cadwell, 2005).

Eighth-grade groups created mini-documentaries about their interpretation of a time period in the 1800s, using state standards as the content guide and presenting their completed work in a public event. PBL increased students’ content knowledge and historical-research skills (Hernandez-Ramos & De La Paz, 2009).

High school students using PBL in American studies performed as well on multiple-choice tests as students who received a traditional model of instruction, and they showed a deeper understanding of content (Gallagher & Stepien, 1996).

In the Knowledge in Action Research Project, high school students learned Advanced Placement U.S. Government with PBL or traditional instruction. The PBL course consisted of a public-policy action proposal and four role-playing projects: designing democracy, simulating legislation, a Supreme Court case, and an election. The PBL students showed improved performance on a complex scenario test, measuring strategies for monitoring and influencing public policy, and performed as well as or better than traditionally-taught students on the AP U.S. Government test (Boss et al., 2011Parker et al., 2013Parker et al., 2011). Learn more about the study’s results to date and its course design.


Article 2. 25 Creative Ways to Incorporate More Project Based Learning in the Classroom

All good educators know that lesson planning should always begin with the end in mind. We ask ourselves, “What do you want the students to know by the end of this project?” In most classrooms, certain academic standards are required, but we also need to consider the “life skills” that we know students need, such as being able to collaborate, problem-solve, and make thoughtful choices. To begin, you must:

  1. Set goals at the beginning of a project,

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  1. And make them visible with a reasonable timetable for completion.

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Once there are clear project expectations, “driving questions” must be developed. These can be created by the teacher or as a collaboration between the teacher and the class. In order to make these driving questions meaningful, one must, as Michael Gorman explains:

  1. If students are helping to design the project, teach them the difference between a typical learning goal and a driving question.
  2. Use the Buck Institute’s “Tubric” to generate potential driving questions.

You can download the Tubric here and I would recommend you watch Andrew Miller’s demonstration.

Great PBL lessons make the learning relevant to the student, which can be done by demonstrating a relationship to current events and/or connecting student interests to the project. Here are some ways to make Project Based Learning meaningful for your class:

  1. Make real-world connections by consulting local newspapers or websites.

Newsela is a great website offering current news summaries for a young audience.

  1. Identify student interests using surveys such as a template on Google Forms.
  2. Choose projects that will guarantee student enthusiasm.

Sometimes students aren’t able to verbally express their interests, but you may be able to identify them anyway. For example, David Hunter knew that the prevalence of zombies in popular culture would be a great hook to use for teaching geography to middle school students. Sarah Carter wrote in this article for Edutopia about her use of Disney movies in her AP World History class!

  1. Brainstorm ideas with a heartbreak map.

Some students have no problem expressing their interests. However, Project Based Learning can take these interests even further by helping students to discover actions they can take to support their passions. Angela Maiers, world-renowned speaker for the “You Matter” movement, suggests that one way to discover the issues valued by students is to make heartbreak maps like these.

Activities like heartbreak maps can be a waste of time if the students haven’t practiced brainstorming in the past. This skill, which can be one of the most powerful ways to produce ideas and solutions, should be incorporated frequently during Project Based Learning. It is also vital that students have the opportunity to brainstorm collaboratively, as this can help to generate even more suggestions and to encourage students to see things in different ways.

  1. Use chart and/or butcher paper and multi-colored Post-It notes to collaboratively brainstorm.

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  1. Go a step further using the Post-It Plus App.

The Post-It Plus App can add digital functionality to those charts, allowing you to capture them on a device, organize them, and share them with others.

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  1. Try other digital tools that are helpful for collaborative brainstorming.

While teaching a traditional skill might involve lessons over a couple of days or for a week, Project Based Learning generally takes place over longer time periods. Some PBL may be as short as few days, but many effective PBL lessons are multi-faceted or interdisciplinary, and can take weeks, months, or even an entire school year to complete. It is critically important to incorporate reflections and formative assessments frequently throughout a PBL lesson so that teachers and students can get a sense of the progress that has been made and the improvements that are needed.

  1. Ask students to use these exit tickets each day after they’ve worked on their projects.

Their visible reflections will help them and you, as the teacher, to keep track of their progress and needs.

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  1. To track progress on individual projects, teach students to use digital organizational tools.

You can try Trello as described here by Bammy Award Nominee, Andi McNair.

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  1. Establish clear expectations.

Collaborative documents in Google can be great for sharing the work, allowing a team of students to work on different parts at the same time. This gives the teacher and team members the ability to stay informed about the on-going work, and also makes it easy to give instant feedback and suggestions. Use this poster to remind students about the expectations when using collaborative documents.

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  1. Gather research and products throughout the project by creating portfolios.

Portfolios can be organized in binders or folders, or with digital tools like Google Drive or Seesaw, allowing students to easily access their work any time and reflect on their progress.

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Grant Wiggins, author of Understanding by Design and many other influential books in the area of education, says,

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Critique and revision are vital in any quality lesson, especially when it comes to Project Based Learning. It’s important to remember that feedback can come from many different quarters, including the students, themselves.

  1. Provide rubrics to give clear expectations for the project.

Students and teachers can use the rubrics throughout the project’s duration, not just at the end. Rubrics can be great for self-reflection periodically throughout the lesson. Sites such as Rubistar make it painless to create effective rubrics.

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  1. Give students tools for self and peer evaluations to be used throughout the project.

For a simple method to self-reflect or evaluate peers, teach students how to graciously critique by using such methods as “Star and a Wish.”

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  1. Conduct a gallery walk at or a little bit after the mid-point of the project.

Students can get a better picture of their own performance by seeing their products in the relation to the work of others. One excellent way to do this is to use the “Gallery Walk” as described here by John Larmer of the Buck Institute. You can set expectations for the feedback to be given before a gallery walk by using rules such as these:

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  1. Teach students the value of a “Growth Mindset.”

Learning how to receive and use feedback productively does not come intuitively to all of us. Once your students understand appropriate ways to give feedback, teachers should also model the effective ways this feedback can be received and acted upon. Your students may need to be introduced to the concept of a “growth mindset,” so that they will be able to accept their critiques as suggestions for improvement instead of failures. (Primary students may enjoy the Class Dojo series of short videos about Growth Mindset.)

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According the Buck Institute’s Project Based Learning criteria, experiences should always culminate with a public product that is shared with an audience outside the classroom. When students know that they will be doing this, they tend to work harder to create something with high quality and substance – understanding that their audience may not possess all of the information the students collected during the project.

Consulting experts in the field can be one way to impress upon students the importance of their work. As noted innovation expert Don Wettrick explains in this Edutopia article by Suzie Boss, “They don’t need to hear, ‘Good job!’ They’re better off when an expert tells them, ‘That’s not bad, but have you considered this, or you might want to look at that.’ Oh, boy,” he adds. “When a student gets that kind of response from an expert in a field, that’s authentic.”

In other words, try to avoid the standard conclusion to a project with students standing in front of a class presenting a slideshow about their learning to their peers. Here are some better ways for your students to “make a splash.”

  1. Conduct “Shark Tank” presentations at the end of the project.

Some teachers have chosen to conduct a competition similar to NBC’s Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs try to sell their startup ideas to a panel of millionaire business executives. In the education version, students invent a solution to a problem and must “pitch” it to a panel of adults, which can include local experts and “celebrities” like the mayor or owners of well-known local businesses related to their topic.

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  1. Plan an event, whether it is school-wide or even open to the community, where the students display and explain their end-products.

The event can be a school museum, interactive games like ones you see at the Global Cardboard Challenge, or even a screening of student videos at a local cinema. Use digital tools like Canva to design posters, flyers, and social media banners to advertise the event!

  1. Give students lots of choices for ways to “Show What They Know.”

In my blog post, “Step Away from the Slide Show,” I offer new ideas that allow students to present the topic that interests them in a way that interests them! Passionate presenters are usually much more engaging than those who feel bored by their own product.

  1. Find contests into which students can enter their final products.

Check out these two popular examples:
– “The Star Trek Replicator Challenge” from NASA
– The “Kids Philosophy Slam

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  1. Allow the students to use Minecraft or other self-designed games to share their ideas with the world.

To access Minecraft, click here.

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  1. And, finally, be sure to document the entire experience so you can include it in your yearbook!

A yearbook project is perfect to involve your students, and showcase their talents. It’s also a great way to sum up what they’ve learned during the year. Some of the skills they’ll develop: research, analysis, writing, photography, design, time management, sales & marketing and anything you can think of depending on their age.

Project Based Learning isn’t about assigning students to create the island from The Lord of the Flies out of candy after they read the book. (Yes, I knew a high school student who received that assignment!) Instead, students work on a project as they learn required standards. Good PBL lessons should always include the following:

  • Attainable goals with driving questions
  • Relevance for the students
  • Regular feedback and formative assessments
  • Student choice throughout the project
  • Final products that are shared outside of the classroom

By remaining faithful to the criteria above and using these 25 suggestions for creatively incorporating Project Based Learning in your classroom, you will find that your lessons are more meaningful and engaging for you and your students.


Article 3: Problem-Based Learning Assessment: essential for acquiring entrepreneurial skills

Entrepreneurs must develop the skills of analyzing situations and creating workable solutions that allow them to serve their customers. In the education environment educators need to use assessment processes that allow for assessing the student’s ability to think through situations/ problems not just to remember the right answers.

In the workplace today, creative thinking is generally expressed through the process of creative problem solving. Increasingly, companies are identifying creative problem solving as critical to their success as creative solutions help the organization to move forward toward strategic goals. Therefore whether the entrepreneurship student is opening their own business or going into the workplace working for a company, they need to have the skill of thinking and solving problems in order to optimize customer service and profits.

Authentic assessment is a vehicle that is critical to ensuring that students are not just assessed on having right answers when they do their work in entrepreneurship learning environments.

Students can create portfolios of their work or teachers can organize rubrics so that parents and mentors can assess the work of the students along with the student and teacher. Helping students evaluate their own performance is one way of teaching students to use key skills that they will need in the future as they evaluate entrepreneurial opportunities or as they evaluate employees.

Self or peer assessment is the process of students or their peers grading assignments, projects or tests based on a teacher’s benchmarks. The reasons that teachers employ self- and peer-assessment are that it will save them time, students may gain a better understanding of the material, and student’s meta-cognitive skills may increase. Rubrics are often used in conjunction with self- and peer-assessment.

A rubric is a scoring tool for subjective assessments. It is a set of criteria and standards linked to learning objectives that is used to assess a student’s performance on papers, projects, problem-solving, essays, and other assignments. Rubrics allow for standardized evaluation according to specified criteria, making grading simpler and more transparent.

The rubric:

  • delineates consistent assessment criteria.
  • allows teachers and students alike to assess criteria which are complex and subjective
  • provides grounds for self-evaluation, reflection and peer review.

It is aimed at accurate and fair assessment, fostering understanding and indicating the way to proceed with subsequent learning/teaching. This integration of performance and feedback is called “ongoing assessment.” Increasingly, instructors who rely on rubrics to evaluate student performance tend to share the rubric with students at the time the assignment is made in order to guide the student’s performance and to assist in self-assessment.

Portfolio assessment is an alternative way to evaluate learning processes and learning outcomes. One of the characteristics of a portfolio assessment is that it emphasizes and evidences the learning process as an active demonstration of knowledge. By collecting examples of the best work done in a particular project or over a series of assignments a student can demonstrate what they have done as a part of the learning process and what they have learned. Alternative assessments such as portfolios are used to encourage student involvement in their assessment, their interaction with other students, teachers, parents and the larger community.

Entrepreneurial educators should always consider ways to assess what their students are learning in ways that enhance the skills of the students which will be useful in their entrepreneurial future.

The performance indicators in the National Content Standards for Entrepreneurship Education assist teachers as they develop rubrics, and other alternative assessments. Entrepreneurial mentors can also be of great assistance as assessments are being done as they relate well to the performance indicators in the National Content Standards …representing tasks they are performing daily.


Article 4: How a teacher could create a Problem-Based Learning Environment for entrepreneurship education

Encourage questions. You don’t need to know all the answers. Be a model for lifelong learning. With the Internet, knowledge and answers are at our fingertips today.

Create a stimulating atmosphere: things to read, observe, touch, question and wonder about; things to do; new words to learn; people to meet.

Teach the art and power of “Please” and “Thank you” and the thank you note. Model good manners.

Create a safe haven for risk taking – for your students…and yourself. Look at problems as opportunities. Encourage positive thinking. Be ready to admit you don’t know something, you were wrong, or accept a different solution to a problem than what you yourself envisioned.

Encourage positive talk. Talk toward the behavior you are seeking. Use “remember” instead of “Don’t forget.” Plan to “Do” rather than plan to “Don’t.”

Have high expectations.

Teach and model networking. Practice oral and written communication.

Teach a solid handshake.

Teach creative problem solving skills such as SCAMPER.

Teach a basic decision making model and add the critical final step!

  1. State the problem.
  2. List the alternatives.
  3. Set criteria.
  4. Evaluate the alternatives.
  5. DECIDE.

Forget the walls. Venture out into the community. Find mentors and visiting “professors” and real life learning labs. Connect worldwide on the Internet.

Encourage independence: “You can handle it yourself.” Do not be the dispenser of all knowledge yourself.

Share the super successful entrepreneur Ewing Marion Kauffman’s philosophy: § Those who produce share in the rewards. § Follow the Golden Rule. § Serve the community.

LAUGH. Laugh some more. Word play and puns foster creativity.

Collect catalogs and mailers for your entrepreneurs to peruse.

Share toys and interesting souvenirs.

Collect, display, share, and discuss stories of entrepreneurs and ventures.

Make a business card display.

Teach the art of the trade-off and how to pick one’s battles.

Connect learning to the world of work.

Remember that some problems cannot be solved immediately.

Make the camp or classroom your venture! What is your unique selling point? How do you differentiate yourself?

Use a timer to build awareness that time is a valuable, non-renewable resource.

Talk about priorities. “Must Do”, “Should Do,” and “Nice to Do” lists can help with organization of time. Model keeping an electronic calendar.

Be flexible. Model being flexible. Go with the flow! Ventures your students pursue in their futures may not even exist today.

Entrepreneurship education is about making a job, not taking a job. Intrapreneurship is making a job within an existing organization. Corporations today seek intrapreneurs who can say “This is what I can do for you…” Problem-based learning provides the experience and confidence to be able to say those words!

It has been said that society offers few options for the uneducated. Provide different ways to begin to acquire the education, experiences, and know-how needed to compete in the global economy of today…and tomorrow.

Post quotes everywhere. Whatever you are, be a good one. Abraham Lincoln If you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life. Unknown